I'm still browsing in the book, Read This! by Hans Weyandt, that I talked about recently. I'm still putting together a list of Handpicked Favorites as the bookstore owners and salespeople did in the book. And I'm still choosing titles off the top of my head. Soon I'll look at my database and search out titles I have given 5 stars to but that don't immediately come to mind. Here are my second 5 titles with annotation:
- Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West. This is another great travel book, published in 1941 when the Nazis invaded Yugoslavia and telling about West’s trip to that country in 1937. It’s history and ethnography and travel and current (in the late 30s) events and brilliantly written, all 1,100 pages of it.
- Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O’Nan. Here’s the PW review: "Set on the last day of business of a Connecticut Red Lobster, this touching novel . . . tells the story of Manny DeLeon, a conscientious, committed restaurant manager any national chain would want to keep. Instead, corporate has notified Manny that his-and Manny does think of the restaurant as his-New Britain, Conn., location is not meeting expectations and will close December 20. On top of that, he'll be assigned to a nearby Olive Garden and downgraded to assistant manager. It's a loss he tries to rationalize much as he does the loss of Jacquie, a waitress and the former not-so-secret lover he suspects means more to him than his girlfriend Deena, who is pregnant with his child. On this last night, Manny is committed to a dream of perfection, but no one and nothing seems to share his vision: a blizzard batters the area, customers are sparse, employees don't show up and Manny has a tough time finding a Christmas gift for Deena. Lunch gives way to dinner with hardly anyone stopping to eat, but Manny refuses to close early or give up hope. Small but not slight, the novel is a concise, poignant portrait of a man on the verge of losing himself.”
- Book of Common Prayer, 1662 by Thomas Cranmer. It’s remarkable how little the Book of Common Prayer had changed when the 1922 version was published. It was called the common prayer book because every Anglican communion in the world worshipped with the same services outlined in that book. Like the language of Shakespeare’s plays and the King James Bible, that of the Common Prayer Book is familiar to everyone who reads English poetry and prose. Alas, the Anglican Church chose to change the prayer book and de-emphasize the old language so that now there are numerous liturgies, none of them with language of any value.
- Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt. The author decided on a whim to visit Savannah, Georgia, when he realized a round trip ticket to that city cost about the same as a dinner at a restaurant he frequented in New York City. Over a few years he came to know some of the eccentrics of Savannah -- The Lady Chablis, a man who walks an invisible bulldog, another who carries flies on a leash, and a man who was instrumental in Savannah’s restoration who is tried numerous times (hung juries) for the death of a houseboy. Johnny Mercer’s tomb is in the cemetery of the title. Charming and hilarious.
- The Sot-Weed Factor by John Barth. Here’s The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature entry on the novel: “Picaresque novel by John Barth. . . . A parody of the historical novel, it is based on and takes its title from a satirical poem published in 1708 by Ebenezer Cooke, who is the protagonist of Barth's work. The novel's black humor is derived from its purposeful misuse of conventional literary devices.” I didn’t pick up on most of that when I first read it when it was new in 1960. Time Magazine says: “This is Barth's most distinguished masterpiece. This modern classic is a hilarious tribute to all the most insidious human vices, with a hero who is ‘one of the most diverting...to roam the world since Candide.’” Follow the link to Wikipedia for an attempt to describe it., but it’s basically indescribable.